A Small Helping of a No. 2 Breakfast

by M. Nilo

I forgot my gym bag.

That's what first brought me to South Pearl Coffee Shop and Restaurant at 265 South Pearl, near the corner of Rensselaer and South Pearl. While my friends went off to their early morning workout, I entered the Coffee Shop in search of breakfast. It's a small place: a single line of booths and another of counter stools. The kind of place where the staff shout at each other with vigor, if not real malice, but never fail to talk kindly to customers.

And it's exactly the place I wanted to be instead of doing deadlifts.

My food choice reflected that. The first time I went, I got the No. 4 corned beef hash breakfast special. At any diner I go to, I order corned beef hash as a litmus test for quality, like Johnny Depp does with Puerco Pibil in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. I want my diner corned beef hash to remind me of lazy Sunday fry-ups at home with my family, especially when I am eating a solitary breakfast and the No. 4 delivered. The hash came out with perfectly crispy bits and heart-clogging grease in tact to be sopped up with buttered toast and mixed in with perfectly runny egg yolks. The potatoes could be crispier, but that's largely forgiven when the portions are so large that I end up microwaving those same potatoes for lunch. I have now been to the South Pearl Coffee Shop and Restaurant a good half dozen times, and I hardly ever look past its breakfast specials.

The No. 10 Farmer's Boy has the best bang for your buck. You get one pancake, one egg, you choice of meat and a coffee or tea for $6.50. My pancakes come out fluffy and golden brown every time, with a nice firmness that allows them to retain their chew after being soaked in syrup.

I read in a chef's memoire that a securely stacked club sandwich is the mark of a good line cook. The Coffee Shop's turkey club passes this test in that it holds together long enough for me to get at the crispy bacon slices while largely avoiding the fresh lettuce which inevitably slides out to be consumed like an afterthought salad along with the side of coleslaw.

I could gripe about the coffee, which is the standard brown water fare ubiquitous to diners everywhere, but where it fails in boldness, it succeeds in never being allowed to become cold, and it never runs out, not even when I drink five or more cups in the fruitless endeavor to satisfy my caffeine fix before a full day at work.

Aside from the its fabulous food, South Pearl Coffee Shop and Restaurant is one of the few institutions left standing in the South End and has the market on breakfast cornered, despite McDonalds being close by.

Because McDonalds can't deliver what the Coffee Shop can. The Coffee Shop has character, and it's got South End character. It's a place where former criminal court judge, Tom Keefe can sit at the counter and be greeted enthusiastically by one of the servers. He charged her, she tells the room, but he was fair about it, she pronounced to the room.

The South Pearl Coffee Shop and Restaurant helps me feel connected to this neighborhood and its people. I pass the parents dropping their kids off at school, nod at the folks waiting at the bus stop, complain about the cold with the other patrons hanging up their coats in the winter. As I quietly eat my breakfast, I listen to the conversations around me. Workers aren't getting enough shifts at work or they have to work through the holidays. Someone's trying to find affordable childcare for their younger children. Two regulars discuss what they're getting up to in their retirement. The Coffee Shop is a good hub for outreach. Flyers for cookouts and programs from organizations like AVillage and the African American Cultural Center sit out on the counter.

The Coffee Shop and the Community

I work for The Center for Law and Justice just a few streets over at 220 Green Street. Started by Dr. Alice Green, the Center is focused on criminal justice reform in the Capitol District and provides each resident with equal access to the goods, services and opportunities of that community. We have a partnership with Albany Medical College (AMC) to provide Healthcare Navigation services through a team of medical students and public health students during the Center's Thursday Service Days. Community members can come in to get help with health insurance enrollment, finding a primary care, provider, transportation to health services, drug guidance and access, healthcare information, and get help in advocating for their health, whether it be with their insurance providers or doctors offices. This year AMC presented the Center with a $600 grant from Albany Medical College for an incentives program to ensure clients facing hardships would come back to their follow-up Healthcare Navigation appointments, I approached the coffee shop owner, Andreas, to see if he could help out with providing some cheap meals for those in need.

There are a lot of barriers for people struggling with homelessness and attempting to re-enter the workforce, which disproportionately affects those returning home from incarceration. If you don't fall under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you have to wait a full 45 days before receiving SNAP benefits. How can anyone get back on their feet on an empty stomach? You can't get to a job interview or your medical appointments, if you're hungry. You need sustenance to sustain your future.

Andreas was kind enough to agree to signing off on 20 meal tickets at a reduced price for a No. 2 breakfast: two eggs any style, meat of your choice, potatoes or grits, toast, and a coffee or tea. We shook hands and exchanged paperwork, very businesslike. He was investing in this neighborhood, in its people.

So pull up a stool at the green countertops. Maybe I'll see you there and if you get a No. 2, know that it's a meal that will sustain you, whatever your circumstances.

South Pearl Coffee Shop and Restaurant

265 South Pearl

Albany, NY 12202

Telephone: (518) 465-1368

M-F 6:30 am - 2:30 pm

Sat 7:00 am - 2:00 pm

Breakfast Specials $6.25-$10.00

If you need help with:

  • Health insurance enrollment, including medicaid and medicare
  • Finding a primary care provider
  • Transportation to health services
  • Drug guidance and access
  • Healthcare information
  • Healthcare advocacy

Schedule an appointment with our Healthcare System Navigators by calling (518) 427-8361 or come into our offices on Thursday Service Days from 3:00-5:00pm at 220 Green St, Albany, NY 12202.